Council Freedom of Information requests by Simon Hawkins - "Model Aircraft" clutching at straws?

Hopefully this hasn’t been discussed before.

I was doing some late night Googling and found some FOI requests to what appears to be every county/District/Borough and parish Council plus some park authorities link here:

I had a look through a lot of them and most said they didn’t have any bylaws prohibiting UAV use on Council land, some had some interesting take on the regulations and one said they had no UAV policy but didn’t allow drones which is an interesting stance and doesn’t make a lot of sense.

However a large number said that they considered UAV’s to be “model aircraft” and lots had various definitions of what a model aircraft is.

I guess my question is is that a reach and using old and dated legislation to prevent both safe and unsafe drone use?

Thoughts?

Sorry if this has been done before.

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Holy smoke - you’re not wrong - this Simon Hawkins chap has been on a serious mission!!

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Interesting. My first thought was that this was Droneprep, given that they are operating a map showing local authority drone permissions, but I think it’s not, since they seem to be just getting their details off the councils’ public websites.

I don’t think “model aircraft” has any definition in primary legislation. It is mentioned in the general European aviation regulations regarding insurance for commercial operations, where “model aircraft” are excluded, but not defined.

It’s often defined in bye-laws, which are generally pretty antiquated in the wording, and in some instances it will cover electrically-powered multirotor drones, in other instances it doesn’t. If anyone is really concerned about legality in any local space, there’s no substitute for actually reading the wording of any bye-law (or PSPO if one exists).

I think a more useful FOI would be to find out if any of the bodies with bye-laws or PSPOs have actually successfully prosecuted anyone under them. I suspect the number of prosecutions is absolutely negligible relative to the amount of discussion this sort of thing generates on the drone discussion pages!

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What did you do during the great lockdown grandad…?

Well lad, there’s a thing called FOI…

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Bookmarked the page for future reference. Not sure why it needed an FOI to get answers, maybe it was done this way to force them to reply within a defined timescale. Good to see Lancaster still being sensible.

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You and I both. I actually sent Simon Hawkins a message thanking him for his diligence and wondering if he was compiling these in some way.

This is not “just getting their details off the councils’ public websites” as someone said here: they are formal FOI requests, which I think councils are obliged to answer?

I found it very telling that my local council - which has a generally anti-drone policy (nothing to be flown “from or above” its land) - has no actual bylaws about this.

The follow-up question is, " Can you finally advise if these [policies or bylaws] have been reviewed in relation to CAP722C published by the Civil Aviation Authority in December 2020."

My council responds: “Our Policy has NOT been reviewed with respect to the CAA CAP722C at this time due to the limited time and resources available.”

So, their published policy is out of step with the regulations but they not in any hurry to remedy the situation, it seems.

A couple of issues arose in my mind:

  1. in the absence of a statutory basis, do council policies require bylaws to have any legal force?
  2. if there are no defined UAS Geographical Zones can we just ignore a no-overflight policy?

Using the Search, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my neighbouring district, and the county authority, have much more benign attitudes towards UAVs.

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For curiosity I’ve just done a search of my local authority and the parks for which they are responsible for. I feel I’ll need to dig deeper to get a more definitive result but an initial query came up with just one park where model flying is permitted. However this does not mean anyone can go to this park and fly a model aircraft as the designated area is the site of the South Leeds Aero-Modellers Society. So obviously to fly there you have to be a member of both the BMFA and SLAMS, hold a CAA Registration, and pay a Parks Fee. Not exactly something for flying a cheap foamy about for an hour on a random Sunday morning.

Next I searched for “Drone” on the council website and the only reference to any thing drone like was in a council house tenancy agreement, under the section about anti-social behaviour.

As I say it was only a cursory search but if the local authority does have a bylaw about drone use in its parks it should be readable with the most basic of searches.

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My local Council, Trafford state that Drones and other Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) cannot take off or land on Council land without our permission

https://www.trafford.gov.uk/residents/events/Filming-with-Drones.aspx

Looking at the FOI they state: I can confirm that we have no byelaws or policies regarding the use of UAVs on Council land.

Interesting!!

No, they don’t require bylaws. Whether or not they have any published policy, it’s their private land and if you are standing there flying a drone, they can declare you a trespasser and require you to leave. That has “legal force” as you are indeed legally required to leave, it’s just civil law, not criminal law, so you can’t be arrested, charged, fined etc.

Similarly, if you’re not standing on the council land but overflying it, you may not be breaking criminal law if there is no statutory zone in place, but you may still be a tortfeasor with regard to causing public or private nuisance. Again, you can’t be arrested, charged or fined, but they could in theory sue you in court for damages or to secure an injunction against you.

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Trafford’s opening statement does suggest they don’t have anything they can enforce but still go on to say you can’t fly

To help with requests, we have produced these guidelines

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:rofl:

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@kvetner I agree would be interesting to see what the enforcement stats are, I would suggest that it would be potentially skewed though not all local authorities would capture circumstances where individuals had been asked to stop flying where no further action had been taken.

@Avianskipdiver FOI is a legal requirement and has strict time frames & processes that must be adhered to or the ICO can take enforcement action.

The time Simon has put in to this is huge, most of his requests have follow up messages where the authorities haven’t responded within the correct time frames or for clarification of the requests.

@Nidge one thing I have found with local authorities is that most don’t actually have any drone/UAS stuff on their websites, one of the ones locally to me has a broken link to their uas page OK their response, this link features on news articles (both on their news page and local rags) which is just a but poor pushing a broken link.

But a lot of councils could save themselves time and effort by having a drone page on their websites.

@Sparkyws that’s a common theme that i saw, no bylaws/policy but we don’t allow them so an unofficial policy which is quite literally not worth the paper it isn’t written on.

@kvetner I didn’t think you could trespass on public land/right of way without a court order or something like a direction to leave power (police power) could be wrong though.

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Model aircraft mentioned in my local park bylaws as well as perambulators and the fact that you cannot pick any flowers.

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The concept of a model aircraft being powered by petrol or other combustible substance does not, to my mind, include aircraft powered by batteries.

Exeter’s by laws are dated 1952. I suspect many councils’ regulations are similar vintage - or older. It would make an interesting test case … :slight_smile:

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Some mention electrical power such as this from Brighton & Hove below:

Sure, different councils have differing needs to update their regulations, I doubt that any have yet come to terms with the new classifications and user training for UAS below 25kg. though some have caught up with the requirements of the old drone code.

Telling a park keeper that you have an A2 C of C but are operating under Article 16 Authorisation with a drone operating at 470 grams and therefore are perfectly entitled to fly within 30 metres of the pond will probably cause confusion.

So I expect our local and county authorities will take the easy way out - blanket ban whatever your skill set or aircraft :frowning:

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But in the next line they state:

Permission will generally only be granted where usage of a drone aids risk reduction in the workplace such as working at height, land and building survey work and or undertaking a professional service such as at festivals and events, or if the filming can be supported in line with our film friendly policy.

What Film Friendly policy? I can’t find one! :man_shrugging:

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Tell a lie i have found there Film Friendly policy!

https://www.trafford.gov.uk/residents/events/Filming-in-Trafford.aspx

Oh I hope this won’t be the case, I suspect you will be right.

Seems Warwick Council is quite plain enough.Model aircraft flying - Warwick District Council

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